I’m living in a world of nots. Not being able to ride a bike outside. Not spending enough nights at home. Not matching a lack of exercise with a lack of beer. Not living outside the bubble of normality.
There are consequences. Some physical – even after swerving hotel fried everything, sugary snacks to extend working days, and meals for one where food and alcohol are mostly interchangeable – depositing me in an unhappy place some 2kg north of a first 2018 weigh in.
Mentally tho, that’s even a bit tougher. For many years hotel rooms represented what I did in the week, zeroed in on where the work was, a proxy for a home life barely missed. Now while the stuff people pay for is far more interesting, the logistics kind of piss me off.
Which made breaching this county boundary at 4 o’clock a righteous thing. After some desultory attempts to suppress a burgeoning inbox, the pub black-holed me into Ross where the blokes I used to ride with were assembled at a bar over which I was keen to transact significant business.
We talked bikes of course. In the cannon of the agrarian year, February exploits the mantra that it is ‘the hope that kills you‘ when longer days are drowned in rain leaving mountain biking to sink into the mud where the kindred spirits lie. Normally this is good cause for a proper whinge, but right now I’d bolt the FrankenAnkle to a pedal and make like a dirty paddle steamer.
But that’s not the point here. While we made plans for monster road trips targeting far flung destinations, one of the crew spoke of his – well there’s no other way to codify this – fetish for bicycles made for two. An inclusive engineering solution to share his love of cycling with his spouse. That’s a someone for whom her shiny mountain bike in the shed was more about him than her.
Steady on. Wooah, back off a second here. This is a dangerous idea espousing sharing might be a good thing. Swapping the disinterest of partners subjected to an unstructured ramble of ‘you should have seen that, you should have been there‘ with actually seeing that and being there. That’s the language of treachery.
Riding is our time. It’s the glue which holds us together. Sure we’d be friends I’m sure still talking shit but feeding beer bellies not dreams. We’re so un-clubby it’s painful- at best maybe a loose association of intersecting ideals. A meritocracy of those fighting the good fight against the dying of the light. A coven of not giving up. But we’ll be there on any Sunday. In every season. Against every excuse not to be.
I’m not sure there’s room for compromise. To dilute the solution of the selfish. To exchange a walk on part in a war for a bit part in a cage*. To actively choose road over dirt, to trade miles for mates, to slide into something that might be more of our age.
There’s a irony that in a world of winter monochrome, this is far less black and white than a cursory analysis would suggest. Our world is not a simple choice between blokes doing the mountain bike thing, and those who’d like to bring the not chronically obsessed into the fold.
There’s room for both of course. Before I mangled my ankle, we passed what I’d always labelled the tandem of misery on our way home, from a ride mostly remembered for shaking off a ton of mud before being allowed back into the car.
It’d been shitting it down. The land around was clamped in grey and dead in every direction. The whole world felt like it was going onto suicide watch because winter was going to last for ever. Yet these two – apparently sane – individuals were grinning and loving it in a way we really hadn’t been.
Pub they said. Sure we replied. In which stories were told to the power of two. Riding squared if you will. Good times for sure but not for me. A week later I’m riding a static bike in a sweaty shed to displace the anxiety that this might be the fun stopping injury. Suddenly I wasn’t quite so sure if something different wasn’t still something.
It’s all riding bikes. It’s physicalising a belief than outside is better than inside. It’s extending the community of those who feel the same way. It’s finding a way to square circles by turning them with those who otherwise would be left wondering what they might be missing.
So tonight, it was great to see my mates. It threw dirt into the hole of not riding. It made me remember why bikes and trails are not the full story. Also gave me pause wondering if I’d done enough to share the things which I assumed no one else in the family understood.
We did it once and it was fantastic. I’m just too damn selfish to go there again. For a while anyway.
*Pink Floyd of course.